Prevention is the key to flu virus

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Virus is spread among humans, not from eating pork products.

By James Roberts

No need to throw out those pork chops. Though the latest virus compromising human health is known as swine flu, it has little to with its namesake.

"[It has] nothing to do with pork products," said Lake Cumberland District Health Department Medical Director Dr. Christene Weyman. "Animals, like us, get flu virus infections. Normally these are species specific, however, under the right circumstances flu viruses mix, producing a novel virus, which has components from all species and can infect humans.

"You cannot get the flu from eating pork or chicken."

Instead, like any flu virus, swine flu is being spread from person to person.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, swine flu was first discovered in a pig in 1930, which is where it gets its name. That particular flu strain has occurred sporadically in humans over the years, according to the CDC.

According to Weyman, swine flu is similar to more common flu strains, but its chemical makeup is different.

"Our immune systems have not seen this particular combination and we are all susceptible."

Normal flu shots offer no protection against swine flu.

As of Friday, there is one confirmed case of swine flu in Kentucky, although that person is hospitalized in Georgia. The Warren County woman had recently traveled to Mexico, came home to Kentucky for two days and then traveled to Georgia. Mexico is the country hit hardest with 156 confirmed cases and nine deaths.

The Kentucky Department for Public Health is urging Kentuckians who have recently traveled to Mexico, or other countries or communities within the U.S. where swine flu infection has been reported, or who are planning such travel, to be alert for the symptoms of swine flu.

Swine flu symptoms, Weyman said, are the same as the symptoms of the more common flu viruses. The symptoms are:

- Sudden onset of illness.

- Fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

- Chills.

- Cough.

- Headache.

- Sore throat.

- Stuffy nose.

- Muscle aches.

- Feeling of weakness.

- Diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain and/or exhaustion, which occur more commonly in children.

People are contagious one day before they display symptoms, Weyman said.

Symptoms usually last about a week while full recovery typically takes another week. The virus is treated with Tamiflu. There is no vaccine.

The only swine flu death in the U.S. reported as of Friday was in Texas, which has 26 confirmed cases. New York has the most confirmed cases in the U.S. with 50. In addition to the confirmed case, there is also two suspected cases in Kentucky.

Weyman said residents shouldn't panic, but precautions are necessary.

"There is no need to panic or be overly concerned. However, all flu illnesses can be serious, so we need to take care not to get infected if possible."

Just as the symptoms are the same as with the common flu, the precautions are the same as well, Weyman said.

"The  current public health strategy is to do surveillance and educate on hand washing, covering your cough and staying home if sick. Call your doctor if you have flu-like symptoms."

Swine flu can be fatal, but, again, so can common flu viruses.

"Nationally, the seasonal flu has killed around 40 children this season and usually about 36,000 individuals die each year," Weyman said. "Any flu can kill. Usually, those individuals who have chronic illnesses are more prone to complications of the flu."

The Centers for Disease Control provides the following tips to help avoid swine or any flu infection:

- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the used tissue in the trash.

- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.

- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.

- Try to avoid close contact with sick people. Influenza is thought to spread mainly person to person through the coughing or sneezing of infected people.

- If you get sick, the CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

- Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.